Death Seen Through the Looking Glass

While we’re on the subject of death and I’m in the ‘morbid death’ kind of mood today owing to my friend’s brother’s sudden demise, I’ve decided to post here an essay I wrote back during those glorious college days and had since published in the local newspaper.

Photo by lydarus

Death Seen Through the Looking Glass

My teacher just died this week.

I stared numbly at the obituary notice in the paper. I was suspended in disbelief. My memory went back to classes I had with her in school. It was a blow for me to discover she had passed away so suddenly.

It took me less than ten minutes to forget about her and go on with my life.

Later I learned it isn’t required for the alumni to attend her funeral service. There was a time I was forced to attend those services back in the days. I didn’t really get what they stood for as I was an ignorant brat then. I go back to that incident when I had stood in front of my grand uncle’s coffin some years ago. I had pressed my face against the glass peering down at his smooth pallid mannequin-like features. I remembered a faint memory of him sitting among my relatives making one of his usual cynical jokes. I cocked my head wondering when he’d wake up and make fun of me when my mother pulled me abruptly away with an outrageous cry and boxed my ears for disrespect of the dead. But then was I?

It’s amazing how death can easily snatch people away right under our very noses. One minute they’re beside you, the next they’re gone and the only memory of them lives in the mountains of paraphernalia they’ve left behind. The trace of dust lingers in the air behind these and the faint scent of its former owners stays behind —- a mark forever engraved into the very linings of the fabric of their existence.

Jelard was a scrawny kid with large ears. He had a crush on one of my friends. He used to come to my classroom and just stand there staring at her, too terrified to make a move. We’d tease him to “death” until he’d scampered away in fright. The next year would be the time we received the news that he had drowned. The girl in my clique, Ross whispered to me, “And I used to sit beside him in class. I’m never going to look at his chair again.” From the on Jelard’s place was empty. Nobody would occupy it. It was as if a phantom haunted it. Students would look at his seat and an invincible spasm would pass through their bodies and they would say, “Ah, that’s the place Jelard used to sit.”

As I grew older, I became more afraid to look inside coffins. It would mean looking at death in the face. Pardon the pun. As my classmates and I entered the room where his body was laid, a reverent silence descended upon us. As they gathered around the casket, I lingered behind longing to escape the suffocating mournful atmosphere.

I viewed every funeral service with utmost apathy. I barely knew these persons so I wasn’t much affected. But if I think the next one I’d be attending would be the people I love, I’d break apart. I once had a nightmare seeing my parents’ coffins. Then I woke up crying hysterically, my pillow drenched with tears.

Funeral services have taught me the harsh realities of our being. Those would be the only times I was put in much closer contact with death. The chilly atmosphere, the gloomy faces, the solemnity, the sleeping corpse, to be in the midst of suffering….. we are reminded by our own mortality and we are humbled by it.

It is only by merely reflecting that I can recall the frozen faces beneath the cold glass – nothing but an empty shell of what they once were. They have found their journey is over while I still continue to trudge along in mine.

I stand in this sad event camouflaged among this sea of black. I see the heavy lid of the casket descend and hear the lid shut with a resulting sound. It is lowered deep to the earth and there they shall remain in darkness. Thus their chapters have ended and another one shall begin.

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